Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hitting and Throwing - What Worked for Us

I feel like I'm constantly talking about discipline. But it occurred to me that, at this age, it seems that a large part of parenting consists of disciplining. He's almost two (yikes!) and is at that age where he's really starting to learn that he can make his own decisions and doesn't actually have to do exactly as mama tells him to (remember that Free Will I talked about last week?). I am sure that most moms (especially those with will boys) have been through this stage as well. Caleb really enjoys seeing what happens when he throws toys. He also gets frustrated and wants to show it in a physical way, i.e. he hits.

Let me first say that I DO NOT believe in the "terrible twos." In fact, I despise that phrase and wish people would stop using it. It seems to me like it is a) giving the child an excuse for their behavior and b) giving the parent an excuse for why they lose patience with their child. Plus, to be perfectly honest, two is one of the most fun stages that you can experience with your child and it's sad that society has devalued this stage to be nothing more than tantrums and frustration. The "twos" is a stage when children are really starting to communicate, interact, laugh at jokes, play pretend and so much more. I prefer to call this stage the "terrific twos."

Sorry, I got a little off-track there. Now that I'm done with my little "rant," let's move onto the topic at hand.

Caleb started throwing toys when he was quite young but he never did it very regularly or with any actual force until about a month ago. Even one of the ladies that watches him at church while I am attend a women's Bible study mentioned it to me one day. That was when I knew that it was getting a bit out of hand and he could hurt himself or someone else. Not to mention that he could break something. It's not that I didn't do anything about it when he threw a toy but I it never really escalated and I thought he might just be doing it at home to get attention. Turns how he was doing it in public with other people's toys. I'll say here what I tell Caleb about this: this is unacceptable behavior.

I started by giving him a warning if he threw a toy. And asked him to show me how to "do gentle touches." (We're really big on gentle touches because we have two cats and he knows what it means.) I'll be honest, it didn't really work :) So I took his toy away. This was when he would got angry, and hit me. He is a very physical little boy and he felt like his aggression could be released by getting physical. The throwing toys I could handle, but hitting me was something completely new. He has never seen anyone hit another person (in my house anyway) and I have no idea where he learned this. But he did. And there was a while when he would clench his little fists and take a swing at me! I tried to tell him "that hurts mama, that's not gentle touches, can you show me gentle touches?" A lot of times this worked. He would caress my cheek or give me a hug to show me that he was sorry. But there were times when he didn't give up so easily. He would turn and hit the fridge or the floor or even the cat a time or two.

So being the average Canadian mom, i went on the Internet to look for tips. I was startled by a lot of them:
- lock them in their room: I did this once for about 60 seconds because I really needed a break and he was scared that I had left him for good. Plus he ate my lip balm in the meantime.
- hit them back: This made the least sense, how can I teach him not to hit if I am hitting? And do I really want to hit my child?
- time outs in the corner: he would never stay in the chair. Again, he thought I abandoned him. And even when I sat with the chair he just wanted to crawl into my lap.
- ignore it, he'll grow out of it: Yeah, right. And in the meantime I'll just let him hurt himself and other people.
- Cry so that he sees he's hurt you: this only works if your child is receptive at that point but a lot of children are unable to focus on anyone but themselves at a time like this.

So I went back to my trusty Ask Dr Sears site to see if I could glean any information from there.

Here's what worked for Caleb and myself in regard to his hitting. I sat on the floor with him and grabbed his hands. I told him "hitting hurts mommy. Hitting is not nice. It is not acceptable behavior. Gentle touches please." I would repeat all those phrases that he had already become accustomed too. Then I added a new one. I told him "if you can't control your hands, mama will help control them for you." If I had just told him that and not followed through with it, I would have gotten nowhere. So for a couple of days I made sure to follow through. Even if it meant turning off the stove while cooking dinner. This meant I sat on the floor holding his hands (bear hugs are great for this) for him until he calmed down enough to reason. One time I held him until he actually fell asleep in my arms(anger can be exhausting!).

Note: For Caleb it was anger that triggered his hitting. Some children do it out of boredom or to get your attention. Try to figure out the reason so you can deal with the root instead of the result.

Flashback to a month later: he barely hits at all. Or throws toys either. If he does, the toy gets taken away for a while. There was a day when I took away quite a number of toys and my linen closet got really full! When I see him raise his hands I remind him "control your hands please. If you can't control them mama will help you." Some days he needs to be reminded several times but I can't actually remember the last time I reminded him. As for the lady at church, she mentioned this past Wednesday that Caleb is such a well behaved little boy and she was surprised how very short-lived his toy throwing and hitting "phase" lasted. It's so great to get the reassurance that he's not just on his best behavior for me but also behaves elsewhere.

So that's my success story with overcoming this stage that can escalate very quickly. Or at least it's on pause right now. But Dr. Sears says that 3 year olds are easier to discipline. So I'll cling to that fact (though I know mothers who would disagree with him on that point lol!) and hope that this issue stays away for some time. Anger is an issue that both Adam and I have dealt with in the past (and we still have our explosive moments) so if Caleb is anything like his parents we're not through with teaching how to express anger in a healthy way and control it instead of letting it control you. But I know that if this problem comes around again, at least I will already have a plan in place to deal with it. For now, I'm enjoying the "terrific twos" with my son.

My favorite part of this stage right now is that he's learning how to play pretend with his Little People (the little girl with glasses is "daddy" (Adam wears glasses)which is hilarious!) and the Little People kiss (sound effects and all) and then he lays them down to go to sleep. So cute!

Please feel free to leave a comment with any of your experiences in what worked or didn't work for you and your family. I'd love to get more ideas.

1 comment:

  1. fabulous fabulous!!! I love that you took the time to figure out a solution specific to your child. All to often parents think the same thing will work with everyone. How is that possible? Our kids are so different!

    My son responds really well to time outs. Since before he was one we have been using time out. He gets one reminder, and then must go to time out. But even at six months old I can tell our daughter is going to be a different story. Her temper is already showing!!

    And I do agree with Dr. Sears about three year olds being easier to discipline. Mainly because at that point there should already be a discipline procedure in place. Therefore the child already know what to expect. Many parents these days don't start trying to put a discipline until their kids are older. That is where the problems come up. Our society has this "quick fix" thing going on. But we can't do that with our kids!!! We have to KNOW them and help them figure out the world.